The HINDU Notes – 13th September 2018 - VISION

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Thursday, September 13, 2018

The HINDU Notes – 13th September 2018

📰 Criminal politicians: 25 States, UTs did not respond to Supreme Court orders

Data sought on cases against MPs, MLAs.

•A total of 25 States and Union Territories did not bother to respond even once, between November last year and August 2018, to repeated Supreme Courtorders for information about the number of criminal cases pending against their MPs/MLAs and the setting up of special courts to exclusively try them.

•On Wednesday, the apex court took note of this long silence from the States and Union Territories about their respective legal battles against criminality and corruption in politics.

•A three-judge Bench led by Justice Ranjan Gogoi alphabetically recorded the names of each one of those States and Union Territories in its six-page order. They are Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Odisha, Punjab, Rajasthan, Sikkim, Tripura, Uttarakhand, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Chandigarh, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu, Lakshadweep and Puducherry.

•The Supreme Court said the States ignored its orders of November 11, 2017 and August 28 this year.

‘Will check compliance’

•Taking serious note of the lack of enthusiasm on the part of the States, the Supreme Court said it would monitor the compliance of its orders to form special courts to try MPs/MLAs and the functioning of these courts.

•The Bench directed the Chief Secretaries of the States and the Registrar Generals of the High Courts to provide the precise number of cases presently pending and required to be transferred to the special courts.

•The Bench also directed the two authorities to provide information on the functionality of 12 special courts which have already been set up in 11 States.

•It has also sought information on the volume of cases required to be transferred to the special courts and whether there is a need to set up more such courts.

•Of the 11 States, Delhi has two special courts while Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh have one each.

•Of the 12 special courts, six are sessions courts and five are magisterial courts.

•The Supreme Court had on December 14, 2017 ordered special courts to be set up to fast-track the long-pending trials of lawmakers.

📰 Section 377: Drawing a curtain on the past

In striking down Section 377, the Supreme Court has recognised the Constitution’s extraordinary transformative power

•In a rousing address to the Constituent Assembly on November 25, 1949, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar laid out his transformative vision for the Constitution. The document, he said, ought to serve as a lodestar in the endeavour to make India not merely a political but also a social democracy. He saw liberty, equality and fraternity as principles of life, as a collective “union of trinity”. “To divorce one from the other,” he said, “is to defeat the very purpose of democracy.” Now, 71 years after Independence, these values that Ambedkar saw as integral to India’s republic, find new meaning in a remarkable judgment of the Supreme Court in Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India. Not only has the court struck down the wretchedly wicked Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, insofar as it criminalises homosexuality, but it has also recognised the Constitution’s enormous and extraordinary transformative power. In doing so, the court has provided us with a deep expression of democratic hope. And perhaps we can finally believe, as Nehru said, in his famous midnight speech, that “the past is over, and it is the future that beckons to us now”.

Macaulay’s shadow

•Plainly read, Section 377 punishes with imprisonment for life or for a term of up to 10 years any person who voluntarily has “carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal”. Over the years, the term, “against the order of nature”, has been used to persecute members of the LGBTQ community, treating any non-procreative sexual act by them as acts of crime. Thomas Macaulay, the law’s drafter, despised the idea of even a debate on the legislation’s language. “We are unwilling to insert, either in the text, or in the notes, anything which could give rise to public discussion on this revolting subject,” he wrote in his chapter on “unnatural offences”. “…We are decidedly of the opinion that the injury which would be done to the morals of the community by such discussion would far more than compensate for any benefits which might be derived from legislative measures framed with the greatest precision.”

•Like many other colonial-era laws, therefore, Section 377 was inserted with a view to upholding a distinctly Victorian notion of public morality. But post-Independence, the law remained on the books, as an edict that the Indian state saw as intrinsic to the enforcement of its own societal mores. The criminal law, the government believed, was a legitimate vehicle through which it could impose and entrench in society its own ideas of what constituted a good life. Societal morality, to it, trumped constitutional guarantees of equality and liberty.

Long road to freedom

•In July 2009, however, the Delhi High Court, in a judgment delivered by a bench comprising Chief Justice A.P. Shah and Justice S. Muralidhar, rejected this vision, and declared Section 377, insofar as it criminalised homosexuality, unconstitutional. In the court’s belief, the law was patently discriminatory. It offended not only a slew of explicitly guaranteed fundamental rights — in this case, Articles 14, 15, 19 and 21 — but also what the judgment described as “constitutional morality”. “Moral indignation, howsoever strong, is not a valid basis for overriding individual’s fundamental rights of dignity and privacy,” the court wrote. “In our scheme of things, constitutional morality must outweigh the argument of public morality, even if it be the majoritarian view.”

•At the time this was a grand statement to make. Indeed, barely four years later, the Supreme Court reversed the findings in Naz, and rendered the judgment’s radical vision nugatory. In a shattering verdict, the court, in Suresh Kumar Koushal, once again declared homosexuality an offence. LGTBQ persons, to the court, constituted only a “miniscule minority”, and they enjoyed, in the court’s belief, neither a right to be treated as equals nor a right to ethical independence, a freedom to decide for themselves how they wanted to lead their lives.

•But now, in Navtej Singh Johar, the court has restored both the quotidian and the outstanding glories of the judgment in Naz. Unexceptionally, Section 377, it has found, infringes the guarantee of equality in Article 14, the promise against discrimination in Article 15, the right to free expression contained in Article 19, and the pledges of human dignity and privacy inherent in Article 21. But, perhaps, more critically, the court has taken inspiration from Naz in bringing to the heart of constitutional interpretation a theory that seeks to find how best to understand what equal moral status in society really demands, a theory that engages profoundly with India’s social and political history.

Interpreting the Constitution

•The question of how to interpret a constitution, any constitution, is an age-old one. The Indian Constitution couches its guarantee of fundamental rights in abstract terms. For instance, the Constitution doesn’t expressly tell us what equality, in Article 14, means. Does it mean merely a formal equality, or does it promise a more substantive equality, demanding the state’s proactive participation?

•Until now, in the absence of a coherent theory of interpretation, judges have vacillated in answering such questions. But the four separate opinions in Navtej Singh Johar, written respectively by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justices R.F. Nariman, D.Y. Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra, collectively espouse an interpretive model that gives to India’s history its full consideration. The Constitution “was burdened with the challenge of ‘drawing a curtain on the past’ of social inequality and prejudices,” Justice Chandrachud wrote, invoking Professor Uday Mehta. The document, therefore, was an “attempt to reverse the socializing of prejudice, discrimination and power hegemony in a disjointed society.” Or, as Chief Justice Misra put it: “The adoption of the Constitution was, in a way, an instrument or agency for achieving constitutional morality and [a] means to discourage the prevalent social morality at that time. A country or a society which embraces constitutional morality has at its core the well-founded idea of inclusiveness.” The idea, therefore, is, similar to what the South African courts have held, to eliminate all forms of discrimination from the social structure, and to usher society from degrading practices of the past into an egalitarian future.

•There is a danger, many believe, that this theory of interpretation could allow judges to turn into philosopher-kings, allowing them to impose their moral convictions on society. But, as Ronald Dworkin has observed, a strategy of interpretation which partakes a consideration of both text and history is really a “strategy for lawyers and judges acting in good faith, which is all any interpretive strategy can be”.

•Future disputes will certainly have to be guided by the court’s general rule prescribed in Navtej Singh Johar. The court has already reserved its judgment in a number of cases that will tell us how it intends on applying this theory. Its decision in cases concerning the entry of women into the Sabarimala temple, on the practice of female genital mutilation of minor girls in the Dawoodi Bohra community, on the validity of the Indian Penal Code’s adultery law, will all prove telling. Yet, much like the challenge to Section 377, the issues at the core of these cases are scarcely controversial as a matter of pure constitutional interpretation. Ultimately, therefore, the true value of Navtej Singh Johar will only be seen when the court sees this theory as integral to its ability to judge clashes between the naked power of the state and personal liberty, to cases such as the challenge to the Aadhaar programme, which seek to reverse the transformation that the Constitution brings. There too, as Chief Justice Misra has written, the court must be “guided by the conception of constitutional morality”.

📰 Rajiv Gandhi assassination: The seven convicts have suffered enough

The Governor has to act in accordance with the Tamil Nadu government’s recommendation in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case

•Following the order of the Supreme Court in the mercy petition by A.G. Perarivalan, one of the seven convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, the Tamil Nadu government has recommended to the Governor to pardon and release all the seven.

•Some people have doubted whether these convicts will be released even after the State government’s recommendation; I believe that the Governor has no option but to act in accordance with the State government’s recommendation and release them.

Whose discretion?

•In our system of parliamentary democracy, which we have borrowed from the U.K., the Governor is much like the King of the U.K., a constitutional head who has to act not at his or her own discretion, but on the advice of the Council of Ministers. This was the law declared by the seven-judge Bench of the Supreme Court in Shamsher Singh v. State of Punjab (1974), which came even before the 42nd Constitution Amendment which only expressed what was earlier implicit in the Constitution.

•Following this decision, in two more decisions of the Constitution Bench — Maru Ram v. Union of India (1980) and Kehar Singh v. Union of India (1988) — the Supreme Court held that in exercising the power under Article 72 (the power of the President to grant pardons, and to suspend, remit or commute sentences in certain cases) or Article 161 (the power of the Governor to do the same) of the Constitution, the President or the Governor has to act on the advice of the Council of Ministers and not at his or her own discretion. Thus, the Governor of Tamil Nadu has no option but to release the seven convicts.

Two apprehensions

•Those who doubt that the seven convicts can still be released after the Tamil Nadu government’s recommendation have two apprehensions, but both are unfounded. The first apprehension is on the basis of the Supreme Court judgment in Union of India v. V. Sriharan alias Murugan (2015). A careful perusal of this decision shows that it only relates to the statutory power of the State government under the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and has nothing to do with the constitutional power of the Governor under Article 161 of the Constitution. What the judgment notes is the requirement in Section 435(1) of the CrPC of consulting the Central government when the State government wishes to grant remission of a sentence in a case which had been investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation. The court held that the word “consultation” in Section 435(1) must be interpreted to mean “concurrence”. But the constitutional power to grant pardon in Article 161 is different from the statutory power under the CrPC. Hence, the aforementioned decision does not come in the way of the Governor granting pardon, without the concurrence of the Central government.

•The second apprehension is that if the Governor grants pardon, his action may be struck down by the court as arbitrary. No doubt it has been held in Maru Ram’s case and other subsequent judgments of the Supreme Court that the Governor’s act of granting pardon is subject to judicial review and can be struck down if it is arbitrary or mala fide. But can it be said that if the Tamil Nadu Governor grants pardon to the seven convicts on the basis of the recommendation of the State government, he will be acting in an arbitrary or mala fide manner? The answer is clearly in the negative. In Maru Ram, the Supreme Court had observed that the “considerations for exercise of power under Articles 72/161 may be myriad and their occasions protean”. Among such myriad considerations can surely be that the convicts have spent 27 years in jail and have suffered enough. As Portia said in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, justice should be tempered with mercy. The Governor must now act quickly and pardon and release the seven convicts without any ado.

📰 Cabinet Committee clears new procurement policy

Farmers growing oilseeds, pulses and copra will get the MSPs they are promised every year

•The Centre has announced a ₹15,053 crore scheme to ensure that farmers growing oilseeds, pulses and copra actually get the minimum support prices (MSP) they are promised for their crops every year.

•The umbrella policy — Pradhan Mantri Annadata Aay Sanrakshan Abhiyan (PM-AASHA) — was approved by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs on Wednesday.

•According to an official statement, it clubs together an existing procurement scheme with newly introduced options — meant for oilseeds only — of additional procurement by private traders or a cash payment scheme.

Credit guarantee

•Apart from the ₹15,053 crore to be spent over a two-year period to implement the scheme, the Cabinet approved an additional government credit guarantee of ₹16,550 crore for agencies undertaking procurement. “The government is working with a holistic approach... Increasing MSP is not adequate and it is more important that farmers get the full benefit of the announced MSP,” said the statement.

MSP hiked by 50%

•The government announces minimum support prices for 23 crops every year. This year, these rates were set at 50% higher than the farmers’ production costs, including labour cost. The rates are meant to give remunerative prices to the farmers.

•About one-third of the harvest of the two major foodgrains, rice and wheat, are procured by the Centre at the MSP for sale in ration shops. However, most of the 21 other crops are sold at market prices, often below the MSP, as the government’s procurement operations are temporary.

•Over the last two years, the government has increased the procurement of pulses and oilseeds at MSP under the Price Support Scheme.

•In 2017-18, the National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India said it bought 31.9 lakh tonnes of pulses and oilseeds at the MSP, benefiting 20 lakh farmers. But the total production of pulses was estimated at 240 lakh tonnes, while oilseed production was 300 lakh tonnes.

Copra, pulses will still get price support

•Under the new PM-AASHA scheme, the existing Price Support Scheme (PSS) will continue for pulses and copra, with Central agencies — including the NAFED and the Food Corporation of India — physically procuring the produce whenever the market rates fall below MSP, up to a maximum limit of 25% of the total harvest. The Centre will bear the costs, according to the existing guidelines. However, for oilseeds alone, the States will be allowed to choose between the PSS or two new schemes, the statement said.

•The Price Deficiency Payment Scheme is modelled on the Bhavantar experiment in Madhya Pradesh last year, where there is no physical procurement at all. Instead, farmers will sell their produce in the market, and the government will directly pay them the difference between the MSP and the average market rate. The cash payment will be deposited in their bank accounts. When this scheme was proposed by the NITI Aayog to the States in April 2018, a 60:40 split in costs between the Centre and the States was suggested; it is unclear how the burden will now be shared.

•The other option is a pilot scheme where selected private procurement agencies will procure the commodity at the MSP, instead of the government. Maximum service charges up to 15% of the notified MSP will be payable, said the statement.

Expers sceptical

•While Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh called the policy an important step to double farmers’ income by 2022, experts remained sceptical about its implementation. “NAFED has a stock of more than 4 million tonnes [of pulses and oilseeds] because of the last two years’ procurement, but their distribution policy is non-existent. When market prices are 30% lower than the MSP, who is going to bear the loss,” asked Ashok Gulati, an agricultural economist with the ICRIER and former chairman of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices, which sets the MSP.

•He had co-authored a research paper on Madhya Pradesh’s Bhavantar scheme, which showed that it could not reach more than 22% of the produce, and led to corruption as trader cartels depressed market rates during the implementation of the scheme. He felt that involving private agencies would also be a non-starter, if market prices fell below the 15% compensation limit.

•Agriculture and food policy expert Devinder Sharma said that earlier experiments with private procurement — such as the ITC e-choupal scheme — had collapsed once demand fell. He felt that the 25% limit on procurement was a sign the government was not serious about farmers’ welfare. “We have half-heartedly come out in the name of farmers...What will the remaining 75% do?”

•“What is done in the name of farmers is actually the government’s way of solving its own problems of a high edible oil import bill,” said Swaraj India president Yogendra Yadav, explaining the policy’s focus on oilseeds. He felt the policy was “too little, too late,” given that kharif harvesting had already begun, and two-thirds of the country — mostly the eastern States — do not even have any infrastructure for procurement. “If the government was serious about ensuring MSP, it would focus on building that infrastructure. Otherwise, all this is just on paper,” he said.

📰 India’s health report reads worse

India’s health report reads worse
Joint study details diseases, risks over 26 years.

•Indians have registered a 50% increase in the prevalence of ischemic heart diseaseand stroke over the period from 1990 to 2016, with the number of diabetes cases climbing from 26 million to 65 million. In the same period, the number of people ailing from chronic obstructive lung disease went up from 28 million to 55 million, according to the ‘India State-level Disease Burden Initiative’ report released on Wednesday.

•The proportional contribution of cancers to the total loss of health in India has doubled from 1990 to 2016, but the incidence of different types of cancers varies widely between the States.

Joint initiative

•The report is a joint initiative of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, along with experts and stakeholders associated with over 100 Indian institutions.

•The State-wise disease burden showed that Punjab has been ranked at the top for the burden of ischemic heart disease, followed by Tamil Nadu, and vice-versa for diabetes. West Bengal topped with the largest number of stroke cases followed by Odisha, according to the comprehensive analysis of several major non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

•Kerala was ranked at the top for the burden of cancer, followed by Assam.

•Being overweight was found to be a major risk factor for diabetes doubled in every State of India from 1990 to 2016.

•The findings have been reported in a series of five research papers published in ‘The Lancet Global Health’, ‘The Lancet Public Health’, and ‘The Lancet Oncology’, along with a commentary in the medical journal The Lancet.

•Professor Balram Bhargava, Secretary, Department of Health Research, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, and Director General, ICMR, said: “These papers, through detailed analysis, have elucidated disease and risk factor trends for major NCDs, and suicides, in every State, over 26 years.”

•He added that while it is known that NCDs have been increasing in India, a major finding of concern is that the highest rate of increase in ischemic heart disease and diabetes is in the less developed States of India.

•“These States already have a high burden of chronic obstructive lung disease, and of a range of infectious and childhood diseases, so the control of NCDs in these States has to be boosted without delay,” he said.

•The papers showed that the proportional contribution of cancers to disease burden in India has doubled since 1990, but the incidence of individual cancers varies widely between the States, the reasons for which need to be understood better to guide prevention and control of cancer.

Ayushman Bharat

•Experts noted that the insights provided by these findings are very timely for the planning of Ayushman Bharat, the National Health Protection Mission announced recently by the Prime Minister. “ICMR is also working at creating a standard treatment workflow for Ayushman Bharat,’’ said Dr. Bhargava.

•The Council added that they are all set to make public Mahatma Gandhi's health records — general health, blood pressure data, etc. — as part of the 150th commemorative issue of the Indian Journal of Clinical Research.

📰 37% of women dying of suicide are Indians

•Suicide is the leading cause of death in the 15-39 years age group in India. Thirty-seven per cent of such deaths among women globally occur in India, and the suicide rate among the elderly has increased over the past quarter century.

•The data was released on Wednesday by the India State-level Disease Burden Initiative, a joint study of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and other institutes including the Public Health Foundation of India and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

Prevention strategy

•“India’s proportional contribution to global suicide deaths is high and increasing. Suicide Death Rate (SDR) in India is higher than expected for its socio-demographic index level, especially for women, with substantial variations in the magnitude and men-to-women ratio between the states,” the study noted.

•India must develop a suicide-prevention strategy that takes into account these variations in order to address this major public health problem, it stated. “The highest age-specific SDR among women in 2016 was for ages 15-29 years. Suicide was the leading cause of death in India in 2016 for those aged 15-39 years; 71.2% of the suicide deaths among women and 57.7% among men were in this age group,” the study said.

•ICMR Director-General Balram Bhargava said: “The very high contribution of India — from 1990 to 2016 — to the total suicide deaths in the world, especially among women, is a cause of worry. The ten-fold variation between the States in the SDR for women emphasises the need to better understand the reasons behind these suicides and make concerted efforts to reduce this avoidable loss of predominantly young lives.”

•“India’s contribution to global suicide deaths increased from 25.3% in 1990 to 36.6% in 2016 among women, and from 18.7% to 24.3% among men,” the study noted. It further said that if the trends observed up to 2016 continued, the probability of India achieving Sustainable Development Goals for SDR reduction in 2030 was zero.

•Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Telangana, which are in the higher-middle and high epidemiological transition level groups, consistently had a higher SDR for both men and women.

•Suicide prevention helpline: New Delhi — Sanjivni, Society for Mental Health, 011-4076 9002; Chennai — Sneha, 044-24640050.

📰 An education that is in sync

The concept of general education and specialised education proceeding together needs to be widely adopted in India

•Higher education in India has grown exponentially in recent years. A survey by the All India Survey on Higher Education published in July this year shows that the gross enrolment ratio (GER) was 25.8% in 2017-18, up from 10% in 2004-05. GER is the ratio (expressed as percentage), of the total enrolment within a country in a specific level of education, regardless of age, to the population in the official age group corresponding to this level of education.

•For higher education, the survey calculates the ratio for the age group 18 to 23 years. Internationally, the age group 18 to 22 is also used. For India, the Survey gives the corresponding figure as 30%. Though the GER for higher education in India is still less than what it is in developed countries, the growth rate is still quite impressive. The next step is to ensure that the outcome of academic programmes by higher education institutes (HEIs) is acceptable.

•The debate in the media on higher education is often focussed on issues related to governance and autonomy — but these are not the only important issues. There needs to be a debate on the content of higher education in HEIs. Just after Independence, a commission comprising educationists from India, the U.K. and the U.S., and chaired by Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, was formed “to report on Indian University Education and suggest improvements and extensions that may be desirable to suit present and future requirements of the country”. Its report filed after its deliberations (December 1948-August 1949) came to be known as the Radhakrishnan Commission Report (RCR). Philosophical deliberations in the report that are related to the content of higher education are still relevant today.

A template

•The RCR recommended a well-balanced education with ‘general’, ‘liberal’ and ‘occupational’ components. Without all-round general (including liberal) education, one could not be expected to play roles expected of a citizen outside one’s immediate professional sphere. The report advocated that general education and specialised/professional education should proceed together. The study of languages should be given equal importance as one communicated to the outside world only through the medium of language. Therefore, a lack of communication skills could be a handicap.

•The RCR drew inspiration from the emphasis on general education in universities in the U.S. It cited a lecture by Einstein (1931) where he said: “The development of general ability for independent thinking and judgement should always be placed foremost, not the acquisition of special knowledge. If a person masters the fundamentals of his subject and has learned to think and work independently, he will surely find his way….”

The American parallel

•Recently this year, the National Academies Press (NAP) of the U.S. which represents the national academies of sciences, engineering and medicine published the report, “The Integration of the Humanities and Arts with Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in Higher Education: Branches from the Same Tree”. One is immediately struck by the importance attached to the integration of Sciences, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine and humanities in university teaching in both the RCR and NAP reports.

•As in the NAP’s report, the purpose of higher education is to prepare graduates for work and life, as well as active and engaged citizenship — achieved only through the acquisition of knowledge, skills and competencies related to the profession they chose to specialise in and also written and oral communication skills, ability to work as a team, ethical decision making, critical thinking, and ability to apply knowledge in real world settings. The RCR, in turn, talked about including general education as an essential element. But the NAP report goes much beyond what the RCR states and advocates integrating the teaching of humanities in STEM. It says that surveys show that employers now seek graduates with more than just technical capabilities or in-depth knowledge in a particular subject.

•Problems in a real-life setting are interdisciplinary and require an appreciation of related fields. The NAP report acknowledges that disciplinary specialisation has resulted in many developments but also points out that emerging problems are multi-disciplinary. This can be seen in two examples: rising demand for energy, and continuing advances in technology. The use of energy on a large scale and the continued availability of energy in an environmental-friendly manner are challenges which cannot be addressed by narrow specialists. There are technical advances every day, influencing everyday life in diverse ways. This is also leading to concerns about privacy, technology-driven social and workforce changes, and the evolving need for individuals to retrain themselves to remain in employment. In such a scenario, it is important that professionals study the impact of innovations on society in a holistic manner.

•The NAP report says: “The aggregate evidence reviewed by the committee shows that certain educational experiences that integrate the arts and humanities with STEM at the undergraduate level are associated with increased critical thinking abilities, higher order thinking and deeper learning, content mastery, creative problem solving, teamwork and communication skills.”

The reality

•Let us examine the current scene in India against such a backdrop. HEIs are far from integrated. As far as the inclusion of elements of general education in the curriculum for undergraduates is concerned, the situation is mixed. Several engineering, and science education and research institutes have embedded general education programmes at the undergraduate level. Such programmes are missing in most university-affiliated science colleges. Rather, there are institutions that cater to a single stream which precludes the possibility of even an informal interaction between students and faculty with different specialisations. The focus of undergraduate education should be on classical disciplines, with enough credits for general education. Focus on specialisation can wait until the post graduate level.

•In 1959, C.P. Snow spoke about “The Two Cultures”. It is time to bridge the divide between the two cultures in the education system and evolve a third culture where the two sides understand and appreciate each other.

📰 Sage advice: on Raghuram Rajan's suggestions

Raghuram Rajan’s suggestions on preventing a financial crisis must be heeded

•Former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan’s note of caution on the next financial crisis that could be building up needs to be taken in all seriousness. In his note to Parliament’s Estimates Committee on bank non-performing assets (NPAs), Mr. Rajan has flagged three major sources of potential trouble: Mudra credit, which is basically small-ticket loans granted to micro and small enterprises; lending to farmers through Kisan Credit Cards; and contingent liabilities under the Credit Guarantee Scheme for MSMEs, run by the Small Industries Development Bank of India. The disbursement under Mudra loans alone is ₹6.37 lakh crore, which is over 7% of the total outstanding bank credit. These loans have been sanctioned under the Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana, which aims to ‘fund the unfunded’, and is a signature scheme of the NDA government. Given that these are small loans up to ₹10 lakh each, with the borrowers mostly from the informal sector, banks have to monitor them very closely. It is debatable whether banks have the resources and manpower to do this when they are chasing the bigger borrowers for business and, increasingly these days, recoveries. The risk is that these small-ticket loans will drop under the radar and build into a large credit issue in course of time. The same logic holds true for crop loans made through Kisan Credit Cards.

•Mr. Rajan’s advice on loan waivers has been made by him and others in the past. But the political class has chosen to turn a deaf ear to this advice, vitiating the credit culture and creating a moral hazard where farmer-borrowers assume that their loans will invariably be waived off. The former RBI Governor has strongly defended the RBI against criticism, often unfair, over its policies on NPA recognition and resolution. He rightly termed as “ludicrous” the allegations that the economy slowed down because of the RBI. Recognition is the first step in a clean-up, and unless banks are cleaned of their non-performing loans, they cannot make fresh loans. The Central government should also take note of some forward-looking statements that Mr. Rajan has made on the governance of banks. Among his suggestions to avert a recurrence of the current mess are, professionalising bank boards with appointments done by an independent Banks Board Bureau; inducting talent from outside banks to make up for the deficit within; revising compensation structures to attract the best talent; and ensuring that banks are not left without a leader at the top. It is a comment on the state of our polity that despite the important issues that Mr. Rajan raised, political parties have chosen to pick only the points that are convenient to them — about the period when these bad loans were made and the purported inaction over a list of high-profile fraud cases highlighted by him.

📰 Dam disclosures

The deluge in Kerala was made worse by inefficient management of 34 dams

•The people of Kerala have braved the worst calamity since the great flood of 1924. The floodwaters have receded from most of the affected areas barring Kuttanad. Most people have gone back to their homes from relief camps, only to find them battered beyond redemption. As the State is coming back to a “new normal” after the devastation, it is time to ponder on the reasons for the floods.

•Rubbishing the contention from the Opposition as well as studies from international experts that the mismanagement of dams was the primary reason for the floods, the Kerala government has stood firm that incessant rainfall in August is what caused the floods. This is in contrast to the affidavit filed in the Supreme Court by the Chief Secretary of Kerala, which cited the water released from a dam as the major cause of the floods. While there was considerable deviation in rainfall in August, it is unacceptable to put the onus only on that. In fact, according to a India Meteorological Department study, the rainfall in August was only the sixth highest in the past 143 years (1875-2017) in Kerala.

Mismanagement of dams

•One of the major functions of dams is flood protection — to attenuate the flow of water and its impact downstream. The golden rule followed in dam management is to maintain a flood cushion (buffer) in case of unexpectedly high rainfall.

•Kerala has 39 major dams. Their maintenance is shared between the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) and the Water Resources Department. They had all reached their full reservoir level by July-end, and were thus incapable of containing the water flow from torrential rainfall in August. This forced the State government to open the gates of 34 major dams, thereby submerging all the major towns downstream.

•The Periyar is the longest river in Kerala and has the highest discharge potential. The major dams across this river that are maintained by the KSEB are Idukki, Lower Periyar, and Madupetty. The water from Lower Periyar, Madupetty and Mullaperiyar drains into the Idukki reservoir consisting of the Idukki dam and the Cheruthoni dam. The water from the Idukki reservoir and Idamalayar drains directly into the Bhoothathankettu dam, which is the lowermost in the Periyar system, just 15 km from Kothamangalam town.

•A closer look at the reservoir levels reveals that the major dams in the Periyar system were filled to the brim starting August. Idamalayar dam was kept full for most of the days in the pretext of electricity generation. This caused the Periyar to overflow all through its course, in Kothamangalam, Kalady, Perumbavoor, Aluva, and Eloor.

•It is the same story with the Chalakudy river system, which consists of the Tamil Nadu Sholayar, Lower Sholayar draining into the Peringalkuthu dam. The Peringalkuthu, which is the lowermost dam in the Periyar river system, had reached its capacity by June 10. But the government officials failed to heed repeated pleas from different research organisations, including the Periyar Samrakshana Samithi, for a controlled release of water from this dam. The unexpected release of water from Tamil Nadu Sholayar and Parambikulam worsened the already vulnerable Chalakudy river system. The State government also failed miserably in coordinating with the Tamil Nadu government on the release of water from Upper Sholayar despite the State heading the joint water regulatory board. Finally, when close to 20 lakh litres of water per second was released from Lower Sholayar and Parambikulam, and 15 lakh litres per second from 526 sq km of its catchment reached the Peringalkuthu dam on August 15, the dam overflowed for more than 3 metres, submerging Chalakudy town. The dam has been severely damaged with its structural stability is under serious threat.

•The missing water level data of Kakki dam in the Pampa river system from the public domain is conspicuous as there has been a lot of hue and cry over its management. There is little doubt that it was the water which was flushed out of the Sabirigiri projects, Pampa dam and the Kakki-Anathode dam which caused the heavy flood in Pathanamthitta district and in Chengannoor. According to the data released by the State Disaster Management Authority, 85,300 litres of water was released every second from Kakki-Anathode dam, and 47,000 litres from Pampa dam at 4 p.m. on August 14. The shutters of both dams were raised at night. By 10 p.m., 4.68 lakh litres of water started gushing out of both dams. By 1 a.m. on August 15 , it rose to 6.5 lakh litres per second and by 6 a.m., to 9.39 lakh litres per second. The public was caught unawares until the water reached the roof of their houses. An analysis of spill from these dams reaffirms the gross mismanagement in the operation of dams. Data posted by the KSEB reveals that the water released into the Periyar river basin from the Idukki and Idamalayar dams surged from 46.26 mcm/day on August 14 to 200 mcm/day the next day. This caused the towns downstream to be totally submerged.

•Better management of water in Sholayar and Idamalayar would have considerably reduced the extent of the flood in the Periyar and Chalakuddy river system.

•The operation and maintenance of dams is governed by the guidelines of the Central Water Commission and water management protocols. The safety, precautions and evacuation measures to be followed while declaring different alerts (blue, orange, red) are clearly mentioned in these guidelines. The guidelines state that the reservoir control schedule, release procedure and gate operation procedure have to be done only after assessing the potential impact of the procedures. The State government and the KSEB opened 34 of the 39 major dams simultaneously. Controlled release from these dams would have reduced the gravity of the calamity.

What needs to be done

•Admittedly, the change in topography due to human interventions and climate change have contributed to the sporadic and excess rainfall. The proliferation in illegal stone-quarrying activity has been a major reason for widespread landslides. The decision of the incumbent government to reduce the boundary of a quarry from residential buildings to 50 metres has facilitated the mushrooming of the stone quarrying mafia and needs to be repealed at the earliest. The recent decision to water down the Kerala Conservation of Paddy Field and Wetland Act will add to the problem. The disaster management system has failed to predict disasters and plan the process of evacuation. This system needs to be revamped by roping in experts from different areas. The State government must also order a judicial inquiry into the gross mismanagement of dams in the State. With environmental experts and scientists suggesting that floods of this nature would no longer be a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon, it is imperative to understand the real cause of the calamity and plug the gaps at the earliest.

📰 Prison of patriarchy: Why India’s female workforce participation is so low

•Last week Ram Kadam, a BJP MLA from Maharashtra, told the men in an audience that if they were interested in women who didn’t reciprocate the feeling, he would help kidnap the women, so they could marry. While the video of this speech provoked outrage when it leaked on social media, the truth is that Mr. Kadam was only describing in crude terms the reality of marriage for a large percentage of Indian women, where usually the preferred form of spousal captivity is financial.

•Marriage is a career stopper for the majority of Indian women and this cultural abhorrence towards women working is a not-so-subtle way of ensuring that the escape routes out of a marriage are minimised, if not entirely closed.

•India’s female workforce participation is among the lowest in the world. The Economic Survey 2017-18 revealed that women comprise only 24% of the Indian workforce. In fact, as India grows economically, the number of women in workplaces is declining steadily. This, even though the enrolment of girls in higher education courses is growing steadily — to 46% in 2014 from 39% in 2007.

•In India’s leaking pipeline of women employees, the first and most significant drop-off point is between the junior and middle management levels. A survey by Catalyst, a management consultancy firm, pegged this number at a whopping 50%, compared to 29% in other Asian economies. When plotted against life milestones, this often corresponds to the time women choose to get married. The cultural baggage about women working outside the home is so strong that in most traditional Indian families, quitting work is a necessary precondition to the wedding itself.

•Also, counter-intuitively, this phenomenon is far more significant in higher income demographics, implying that the richer the family is, the lower the chances that they allow women to pursue a career. In low-income families, economic pressure sometimes trumps social stigma. Childbirth and taking care of elderly parents or in-laws account for the subsequent points where women drop off the employment pipeline.

•On the macroeconomic level, this suggests that we’re giving up on a 27% boost to the country’s GDP. At the individual level, without any recourse to financial means, women stay tethered to the family. Ending a marriage is such a daunting task — socially and legally — that even the thought of embarking on it without financial independence is terrifying.

•The Supreme Court has set a benchmark of 25% of a husband’s net salary as a “just and proper” amount for alimony, leaving divorced women with full custody of the children at a quarter of the family income. Much credit for India’s low divorce rate goes to this Stockholm syndrome-like situation of Indian marriages. In that sense at least, MLA Kadam should be credited for simply getting straight to the point.

📰 Paying at the pump: the causes and consequences of soaring fuel prices

Why are petrol and diesel prices continuing to rise?

•In June 2017, India’s state-run oil marketing companies switched to a dynamic pricing approach to set pump prices of petrol and diesel on a daily basis. The move was aimed at helping ensure a market-driven approach to fuel pricing by enabling oil firms to factor in day-to-day fluctuations in crude oil prices as well as movements in the exchange rate of the U.S. dollar to the rupee. As a result, with both crude oil and the dollar becoming significantly dearer over the last six months, petrol and diesel prices have remained on a steady upward trajectory countrywide since April 1. According to the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC), petrol hit a record high of ₹88.26 per litre on September 11 in Mumbai, where fuel prices are the highest among India’s four major metros. At that level, the cost of petrol to consumers had climbed 8.4% in this fiscal year.

•Besides the cost of crude oil and the exchange rate, the incidence of Excise Duty (levied by the Centre) and VAT (charged by the respective States), along with a nominal dealer commission that the oil companies pay to fuel pump owners, ends up approximately doubling the final price consumers pay. To illustrate: the ‘price buildup’ information posted on IOC’s website shows that on September 3, a consumer in Delhi paid ₹79.15 for a litre of petrol that was delivered to the dealers in the city at a cost of ₹39.21.

What are the major consequences of this trend in fuel prices?

•Diesel is used to transport goods and commuters and therefore has a direct pass-through impact on retail inflation. When consumers end up facing higher fuel bills for using their petrol-powered two-wheelers or cars, and are also unsure of how the overall increase in the cost of living is going to impact their monthly budgets, they are likely to curtail non-essential consumption expenditure. Thus, even as inflation accelerates, consumer spending, a key driver of economic growth, could start to soften.

What can the government do to ease the situation?

•Given the extent to which Central and State taxes inflate the final fuel prices paid by consumers, the governments have the option of trimming excise duty and VAT, even if this would entail foregoing some revenue in the short-term. In the longer term, policymakers must look at more enduring structural solutions including ways to reduce the dependence on crude oil imports.

📰 The high cost of man-animal conflict

Study finds inconsistencies across States in compensating for losses caused by wildlife

•If a wild elephant tramples your rice fields, the government will provide compensation for the loss. Though it sounds simple, there are several inconsistencies in compensation awarded for human-wildlife conflict — ranging from crop loss to human death — across the country, finds a study published on September 2 in Biological Conservation, an international journal on conservation science.

Five-year study

•Scientists at Bengaluru’s Centre for Wildlife Studies, who analysed cases of compensation for crop raiding, livestock loss and human injury and death reported to the government between 2010 to 2015, find that wildlife that caused losses in 29 States included elephants that raid crop fields, tigers and leopards that preyed on cows and goats, and other species ranging from crocodiles to monkeys that cause injury and property damage. Twenty-two States compensated people for crop loss.

•While a majority of the States awarded compensation for loss of livestock, human injury and death, only 18 (62%) did so for property damage. The complete data for 18 States in 2012-2013 alone reveals that people reported a total of 78,656 cases, for which payments totalled to about ₹ 38 crore. Yet, even these numbers are an underestimate of the extent of conflict: many people do not report their losses, some States lack compensation policies, and the team did not have access to the five-year compensation details of 11 other States.

•When the team compared the compensation patterns in detail, they found that despite a significant mandate to address human-wildlife conflict, there exist numerous inconsistencies in eligibility, application, assessment, implementation and payment procedures across States.

•For instance, although the majority of claims countrywide were related to crop loss, seven States — including Gujarat and Rajasthan — still do not provide crop compensation.

•The ramifications of losses in arid States where farmers rely on just a single crop for survival would be high. Such discrepancies in eligibility and procedure, by promoting selective tolerance and protection of wildlife, could be detrimental to conservation efforts,” said the study’s co-author Anubhav Vanamamalai.

‘Standardise policies’

•“Policies must be standardised across State lines in a manner equitable to both citizens and wildlife,” he added.

•“Empowering people to cope with their losses is needed if we are to see global conservation icons such as elephants and tigers thrive amidst people,” said lead author Krithi K. Karanth.